Whispers in a town that shouts
by Jayne Brook
The house is quiet. Quiet in that kids are at school-husband at work-dishwasher going kind of way. Our cat is sitting on the window seat looking out, silhouetted by the morning sun. A tall mug of tea, reheated seven times and finally I’m drinking it, is sitting next to me.
I need validation. It’s hard to hear the whisper of it today. I look up and catch a hummingbird at the feeder out the window. There’s a whisper. Two Hooded Orioles, bright yellow-orange males, dart onto another feeder – also a whisper. The way my younger daughter shaped her hand into half a heart and I shaped my hand into the other half and joined hers when I dropped her at the bus was definitely a whisper. But there are shouts clamoring to drown all this out. Hollywood shouts out all around us but not, recently, to me. So I listen. I listen for whispers.
A few weeks ago, I was asked about choices I’d made in my life and about how these choices had been validated or challenged. I said that my choice to become an actress had been validated in many shout out ways – by years of work, a good paycheck, admiration from my peers, an award ceremony and beautiful dress here and there, laughs on set, camaraderie. And though I have faced the usual challenges in this business, such as rejection after auditions and fewer roles as I get older, the real challenge to my acting career came about ten years ago in the face of my then two-year-old younger daughter. It was a challenge that drove me to another choice – a choice to dial back my career.
My husband and I had moved to Vancouver with our two young daughters because I had gotten a regular role on a TV series shooting there. At first, I didn’t work every day. I was able to walk my older daughter to her pre-school down the road, pine covered mountains in the distance, or pop letters to Grammy and Pappa into the big red post box up the block. It was heaven.
But months after those early, sun-filled days, we were socked in with rain and the show was limping toward the chopping block. My role in the series had grown. I was now on set almost every day. Our days were long, as all days on episodic TV are long for the regulars on a show – in the make-up chair by 5:30 or 6:00 am, sometimes shooting all night, working 14 to 15 hour days.
One morning, when I was rushing to get out the door – looking for keys, my bag, my script – our younger daughter stood at my feet, looked up, and sobbed, “Don’t go to work today, Mommy! Please don’t go to work!” Her outburst wasn’t unusual for a two-year-old. Two-year-olds often cry when their mother needs to go somewhere – anywhere – without them. To work, the grocery, even the bathroom. But my response to her was unusual. Because out of my mouth, straight out of my uncensored heart, flew: “Mommy has to go to work today! Mommy has to go make more DISPOSABLE ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE AMERICAN PUBLIC!”
My next thought was, wow. Take a break, Jane. And so I did.
The shouts of validation that Hollywood gives have faded, over the years, into the background. No one is telling me to put on a $10,000 designer gown and millions of dollars worth of jewels to go collect an award for best handling of two teenagers’ schedules, while also doing laundry, driving them around for hours and making sure the cat isn’t eaten by a coyote while they’re at school. The ones for whom validation comes in the loudest shouts Hollywood has to offer – Jennifer! Angelina! Brad! Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, SAG Awards, People’s Choice! – are few.
But if I just open my eyes, if I just listen, there are so many whispers in this town that shouts.
We’ve all heard we must listen to the still small voice within us. But we must also listen to that still small voice surrounding us everywhere. The blessings on the breath of it.
That complicated system of good-bye hand signals across a black top when the kids are young that has distilled itself into two half hearts fitting together for a quick second when they are dropped off in the morning. That moment when you answer the phone in the middle of the day and hear, “Mom? I don’t feel good. Can you come and pick me up?” and you actually can. That moment your older daughter gets asked to her first dance – via text! – and you are in the car with her trying to figure out how to politely say no to a boy she hardly knows.
The hummingbirds. The Orioles. They are whispers. Whispers that say to each one of us, “All is well.”Tags: Actress, Entertainment industry, Hollywood, Jayne Brook, Motherhood, Television, Work-life balance